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There are a lot of titles I don’t post on my Goodreads shelf. I will read anything…mysteries, science fiction, fantasy, romance...it depends on my mood, on the time I have to invest in a book, and why I am reading. But some of the titles I don’t share, simply because I don’t want to admit that I read something that is not purposeful or that I fear someone else might judge me for reading. When I talk books with my high school librarian, she is self-deprecating when she admits her addiction to vampire romance novels.
Many of my students are no different when I ask them to talk about what they are reading. I usually try to start my remedial classes off with sharing what I've been reading, and asking the kids to share back. I have students who very rarely share, and most of them are girls. They don’t like to say out loud that they are reading Dork Diaries, while the boys can’t wait to tell me that they are reading Diary of a Wimpy Kid.
Thankfully in my Pre-AP class, which has an even ratio of three girls to every one boy, the girls are not shy about reading and sharing. They pass Nicholas Sparks and Jodi Picoult around proudly. They read Vampire Academy and The Chronicles of Valdimir Tod without fear that someone will tell them that vampire fiction isn't “real reading.” They blog about what they read with passion and personal connection.
So what about the girls in the other classes? When did we create an educational culture that judges girls on what they read, but not boys? When we talk about students in our student success meetings, we focus a lot of time on boy and their data and behavior. We seem to expect girls to be better behaved than boys, and lose patience when they don’t conform. We expect girls to be better writers, better readers, and to read what we hand them without complaint, while we make sure everything we ask them to read is relevant to the boys. Middle school girls are hard to handle. They are trying to find their place in social structures that are unforgiving of mistakes and where everyone is judging everyone else. And their teachers aren't helping when it comes to giving them the freedom to read what they chose and validating those choices.
All reading has value. If we want our students to value reading, we have to validate ALL of their reading choices, not just the ones we approve of or would read ourselves. Should we be guiding our students to challenge themselves, try something new, expand their horizons? Absolutely. But if the point of reading is to have students connect to the world around them, who are we to judge what and how they choose to make those connections when given freedom to choose?